- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
UC ANR provides the California home of Project Learning Tree, a national program founded in 1973, during the height of an environmental movement sparked by Rachael Carson's seminal book Silent Spring.
“Everyone began to realize we were having an impact on the environment,” said Sandra Derby, Project Learning Tree state coordinator.
Project Learning Tree (PLT), working with the forestry industry, developed an environmental education program and trained teachers to present it to children in formal and informal educational settings. In California, the program is funded by CAL FIRE.
Another UC ANR program, UC California Naturalist, has collaborated with PLT since 2013.
“There is a lot of shared interest in environmental education, stewardship and service in our two programs,” said Greg Ira, director of UC California Naturalist (CalNat). The CalNat Program recruits and certifies a diverse community of volunteers across California to conduct nature education and interpretation, stewardship, participatory science and environmental program support.
During the coronavirus pandemic, CalNat offered PLT courses to school teachers, volunteer educators and parents online. Completion of the six-hour course over three days resulted in their certification for teaching PLT curricula. The book, aimed for children pre-kindergarten to eighth grade, includes 96 activities, with objectives, assessment opportunities, online teaching connections, and more.
The teacher training course offered by CalNat engages participants with the same activities they will employ when teaching nature appreciation to children.
Learning to appreciate the environment
Even though online training focuses attention on a computer screen, the PLT curriculum gets pupils outside. After writing about and discussing a favorite tree from memory, the participants were asked to go outside to gather a variety of leaves around their homes, classrooms or offices. They observed leaf details, and sorted them by observable characteristics.
The participants reconvened and shared their leaves, divided into categories onscreen: Leaves with rough edges, rounded, oval or palmate; rough, waxy, furry and thick; drooping down or reaching up.
Teachers can use additional activities outlined in the curriculum to help students understand natural variations and biodiversity by engaging with the leaves through observation and art. For example, if the training is taking place in person, the children can trade leaves and then look for the trees where their peers found them. Or they can put a leaf under a plain piece of paper and rub the side of a crayon across it to show the leaf's margin, veins and other details.
There are also activities related to common core skills and abilities. For example, different leaf characteristics can be charted in a Venn diagram, with leaves' common characteristics appearing in the center – such as green, pliable, veins – and singular characteristics in the sections that do not overlap.
Making environmental learning accessible
PLT advances environmental literacy using trees and forests as windows on the world, said Cynthia Chavez, PLT community education specialist in Southern California. The hands-on, engaging activities help “teach students how to think, not what to think” about the environment and their place within it.
“Environmental education could be taught in a daunting way,” Chavez said. “PLT opens the door to kids who are different kinds of learners. This is important for environmental education.”
PLT's comprehensive collection of activities have won the confidence of the education community. Curricula is only offered to teachers who have completed workshops so PLT can share a proven system of implementation.
“PLT training encourages students to care for the environment and be interested in pursuing careers in environmentalism. They learn science is not just in the classroom. They could become a field biologist, if that's the way their brain works,” Chavez said.
Expressing engagement with nature in words
Among the ways to connect with nature outlined in the PLT curriculum are reading, journaling and writing. To close the educator training, participants were given 10 minutes outside to draw inspiration from nature and write a poem – haiku, free verse, rhyming or other style.
Below are samples of poetic nature observations written on the fly by teachers who will inspire California young people to appreciate and help conserve the natural world with the help of PLT.
A droplet of sun
Planted firmly in soil
Linking earth to sky
I have botany blindness, always looking for things that scurry, not sway
But I am asked to acknowledge the tree, and I do
A lone palo verde
There's a chevron lizard on the trunk
A small, yellow verdin in the branches
A line of busy ants along the roots
So I am grateful for this tree, after all
It sways, and upon closer inspection, it scurries as well
A fly comes by
As wind hits my hair
Almost as if
It moved here and there
Then Winston, my dog
Hears someone bark
And a bird starts to chirp
Like a crow or a lark
Green Jobs Personality Quiz
Project Learning Tree offers a one-time free trial intended for adults to test its Green Jobs Quiz. The quiz helps kids learn what green job fits their personalities. You'll receive information about how to administer this quiz to youth you work with.
- Author: Brook Gamble
- Author: Brook Gamble
A new certification course needs a course emblem fit for a beautiful pin and certificate! We're pleased to announce the new design, a lupine (Lupinus sp.). After passionate debate and multiple rounds of votes for different flora and fauna by course instructors, staff, and our Strategic Planning Committee, we finally settled on the lupine, without designating a specific species. Lupine are found throughout California and are a flower familiar to many people. Lupine are in the pea family, they are nitrogen fixers, and they help sequester carbon in the soil. Furthermore, many species are threatened by climate change. By CalFlora estimates, there are 138 species of lupine in California. Check out CalFlora to learn about the astonishing diversity across the state.
- Author: Sarah-Mae Nelson
On July 7, 2020, we launched the first UC Climate Stewards Instructor Training with 17 instructors from 11 pilot partner organizations across the state. Due to COVID-19 restrictions on meeting in person, we turned our planned 3-day, in-person training into a virtual venture. We chose to spread our 24 hours of training out over 8 days to best accommodate our trainers' schedules and offer the breaks and timing needed in the virtual environment.
Our first day of training focused on the key principles that make UC Climate Stewards unique from other climate change courses currently being offered. These core concepts include exploring cognitive, psychological, and social science of communication; the social-emotional labor of climate change and environmental education; how trauma-aware practices in education and communication support community resilience; and the importance of building relationships in the formation of community. Our second meeting was a full-day workshop on the evidence-based, climate change communication training from the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI). Subsequent sessions were each two-hours long and covered topics ranging from course administration to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Environmental Justice in the Climate Context.
It is wonderful to finally be setting off on this journey that has been more than three years in the planning. Our instructors are engaged, excited, and enthusiastic about our pilot course offerings that begin at the end of August and extend into early next year. We couldn't have accomplished this milestone without these program partners and the help of our Strategic Planning Committee, Climate Science Reviewers, and Core Team. Special thanks to California Naturalist Kate Greswold who has spent countless hours helping us achieve our vision and improve the course, and Adina Merenlender who spearheaded, researched, and co-authored our text (Merenlender, A. & Buhler, B. (2020). Climate Stewardship: Collective Action Across California. Manuscript submitted for publication).
We are working diligently to produce more materials about UC Climate Stewards to help spread the word. If you or your organization is interested in finding out more about UC Climate Stewards courses, check out our webpage.
- Author: Sarah Angulo
Who can participate in citizen science? Everyone. Our 4,000 certified California Naturalists recorded over 7,000 volunteer hours under citizen science in 2019. Though citizen science is a relatively new term, people have been participating and contributing to scientific research throughout history. With the field growing immensely in the last 10 years, technological advances have helped researchers involve more people, communities have come together to answer important questions, different groups have contributed and shared information, and so much more. It's a powerful tool to teach about and experience science.
However, many in the field have begun to acknowledge a problem: the name. Citizen science - currently the most recognizable term for this practice - implies that citizens are the ones who may contribute to science. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, California is home to almost 11 million immigrants, making up more relative to its population than any other state. The Center for Migration Studies reports 23% of immigrants in California are undocumented. The word "citizen" doesn't apply to over 2.5 million Californians.
If we want everyone to feel welcome to the field and participate in science, it's important that we re-evaluate the use of the word "citizen." To describe the two approaches, a community-driven "community science" and a more individual-driven "citizen science," the CalNat program is moving forward in referring to them both as one, Participatory Science (read more about the distinction here). Inspired by the recent international protests surrounding anti-Black racism and police brutality, the CalNat team decided to make this small change of many stemming from our existing strategic plan to make our program more inclusive to more budding California Naturalists. While the field of Citizen Science as a whole continues discussions surrounding the use of "citizen," CalNat will transition to describing it in a way that includes all people who contribute to science: participatory science. As we learn more, we are open to re-evaluating this new term and growing alongside the field.
There's a few ways that our Naturalists and partner organizations can get involved in participatory science projects coming up!
Using our growing UC California Naturalist Certified Naturalists project, which certified naturalists can easily join on the main page, we can track the contributions of individual naturalists to biodiversity science. Once a certified naturalists joins the project, observations made in California over all time are counted.
California Biodiversity Day 2020 has created a survey to get a sense of the potential hosts for CA Biodiversity Day events this year and details on what those events will entail. This survey also is an opportunity for hosts to indicate resources that the organizers might be able to provide to ensure that their events are successful. This survey will be open until Wednesday, July 8.
Help collect data on some of the environmental impacts from COVID. Collect and send samples of specific long-growing grasses from your neighborhood to determine how the stay at home order has affected air quality across California. Added bonus: The species identified in the article are considered invasive. Please follow all local safety guidelines if choosing to participate.